From its position as a key crossroads providing western China with full access to global markets, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region will help expand the Belt and Road Initiative and support China's opening-up in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), said Lan Tianli, chairman of the region and deputy to the National People's Congress.
Lan Tianli, chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Early this month, 40 containers of pulp for paper manufacturing departed Brazil by ship, bound for Qinzhou Port in Guangxi. The pulp arrived in Chongqing by train, ready to be used by Chinese paper mills. The trip required just two days on the train travel on the new rail-sea freight route known as the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.
In the past, more than a month was required for a shipment from Brazil to complete its ocean voyage to Shanghai, followed by another three weeks to make its way up the Yangtze River to Chongqing, according to Chen Feng, general manager of the marketing center of COSCO Shipping Specialized Carriers Co, which handles logistics for the paper pulp.
By routing it through Guangxi and using a train to carry it overland to Chongqing, overall shipping time is reduced by 23 days — from 58 days to just 35.
The land-sea corridor was launched in 2017 by China's western regions and ASEAN member states, under the framework of the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity. More countries have traded with China via this routing because of its higher efficiency and lower cost.
The corridor has been gaining steam, as it offers a faster, cheaper and more convenient intermodal freight transport that gives West China easy two-way access to the globe. It solves a number of traffic for problems for western areas and supports international economic cooperation.
Among other things, it provides a way for more inland cities to benefit from the development of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and to strengthen connectivity between China and ASEAN.
In 2019, the corridor was listed as a national strategy by the National Development and Reform Commission, with the goal of having better transport capacity and world-class customs clearance and logistics services after full completion in 2035.
Currently, there are five routes between China's western regions and the Beibu Gulf, most passing through Guangxi, which offers 52 container shipment routes to points overseas, including 19 routes to ASEAN members.
In 2020, the number of train trips originating or terminating at gulf ports in Guangxi reached 4,607, up 105 percent year-on-year — about 25 times higher than in 2017 — according to the regional government. The figure was 812 for the January-February period, representing year-on-year growth of 99 percent. Container throughput by gulf ports increased 32 percent from last year, the highest of all coastal ports in China, to 5.05 million twenty-foot equivalent units.
With its expanding logistical abilities, the gulf ports were listed collectively by the central government in February as one of the nation's 11 international hubs. They represent the second-largest port operation in South China after Guangzhou Port.
The ports of the Beibu Gulf now feature shipping routes to all the major ports of ASEAN members, and more than 200 ports in 100 countries and regions.
The many coastal cities of Guangxi along the Beibu Gulf — including Fangchenggang, Qinzhou and Beihai —have become hot spots for cross-border trade, attracting investors and companies. The expansion of Qinzhou Port, with an investment of over 3.3 billion yuan ($500 million), is expected to be completed in June. It will then be capable of hosting large ships carrying 200,000 metric tons of containers, thereby increasing the gulf's competitiveness.
"In recent years, the corridor has become a leading program in driving Guangxi's development," Lan, the chairman, said. "The Beibu Gulf economic zone should play a leading role in boosting opening-up to a higher level and promoting higher-quality development in Guangxi."
In the 14th Five-Year Plan period, Guangxi will accelerate corridor development, with the goal of making it the channel with the shortest travel time, best service and cheapest price between China and ASEAN, Lan said, adding that infrastructure and the customs clearance process at ports will be upgraded, and more railways will be built to expand the corridor's logistical capabilities.
Trade with ASEAN
As the region of China nearest to ASEAN members, Guangxi has been a major partner for the organization's 10 member states, offering quicker response times and innovative, preferential policies involving China-ASEAN cooperation.
The China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit have been held 17 times in Nanning, Guangxi, and have become the most influential events for China-ASEAN trade. Besides offline gatherings, an online expo is held throughout the year to better address trade demands.
About 19,000 companies from home and abroad have come to the China (Guangxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone — launched in 2019 —as of the end of last year. Imports and exports reached 158 billion yuan last year, with 33 percent of that in Guangxi.
In the future, the zone will deepen its cooperation with ASEAN member states in customs clearances, certification, accreditation and standards of measurement, and plans to add more leading companies in high-end manufacturing, modern services and cross-border cooperation, the local government said.
It will also enhance financial openness with ASEAN by developing cross-border settlement of RMB, accelerating collaboration in the digital economy through the China-ASEAN Information Harbor and jointly constructing overseas industrial parks.
"Guangxi borders ASEAN on land and sea, and it has a unique advantage for opening-up by linking 11 countries and boosting exchanges," Lan said. "Guangxi is capable of playing a bigger role in boosting the BRI, and we will stick to a development strategy driven by opening to the world."
In the 14th Five-Year Plan period, Guangxi will continue to construct the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, upgrade all platforms related to opening-up, better serve the BRI with a focus on ASEAN and provide a new growth engine for development of China's western regions, he said.